Every year, Firestone Walker invites their winemaker friends to their brewery in order to blend a bunch of their barrel-aged stock into a Voltron-esque super beer to commemorate the brewery’s anniversary. I’ve gone over the process in wonky detail before, so I won’t repeat myself too much here (but you already have -ed. Sorry, it has been amply demonstrated that I am the worst.) Suffice it to say, this is one of my most anticipated releases of any year. The blends are always different, usually occupying a space along the stout and barleywine spectrum, and they’re always marvelous.
This year’s blend consists of five different components:
- 42% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
- 18% Parabola (13.1% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
- 17% Stickee Monkee (12.5% ABV) Central Coast Quad (English Barleywine). Aged in Bourbon barrels.
- 14% Bravo (13.5% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
- 9% Helldorado (13.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Rum Barrels.
Clocking in at 11.9% ABV, it’s the lowest ABV anniversary beer I’ve had from them (and the second lowest ever, only behind XI, which I want to say has a reputation as being the least impressive of the bunch; I’ve not had it, but that’s my anecdotal observation and I’m a moron, so you should take that with a grain of salt.) It’s comprised of the exact same components as last year, just in wildly differing proportions (and it appears some of the barrelage has shifted slightly – no brandy or new oak barrels this year, but some rum barrels in the mix). The bulk of this is stout, but it’s anchored by Velvet Merkin, the lighter, nimbler BBA stout in their lineup. I’ll note that for whatever reason, I found this year’s vintage of Velvet Merkin to be lit af, even if it’s still no Parabola. That could be because this year is genuinely different, or the small bottle format placebo effect, or simply because I’m the worst. That being said: this blend didn’t do a whole lot for me. It’s still really damn good and I’ll gladly seek out and drink more, and it’s better than the pretenders that I’ve seen of late, but it still doesn’t quite hold up to the example set by its predecessors.
Firestone Walker XXI Anniversary Ale – Pours a very dark amber color with a half finger of off white head. Smells nice and boozy, bourbon and rum and oak, with some dark but not quite roasty malt in the background. Taste has a nice, rich caramel start to it, with a hint of roast peeking in towards the middle, followed by lots of booze, bourbon and oak, in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied and well carbonated, hotter and less balanced than usual for a FW blend. This is weird, since this is the lowest ABV anniversary ale I’ve had (though apparently XI was only 11%, but then, I can see what they did there… and it’s also notoriously the worst blend). I mean, I’m no stranger to booze and usually have no problems with this sort of heat, but it feels out of whack here. Overall, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the components are clashing here, but it’s certainly not the most harmonious blend they’ve put out in the anniversary series. Still better than most barrel aged stuff out there though, and I’m actually curious as to how this would age – if the flavors bleshed more, maybe that’d help. A high B+
Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (12 ounce boxed). Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/17. Bottled 10/20/17.
I may need to try this again sometime, but right now, the rankings come in something like this: XV, XX, XIX, XVII, XVIII, XVI, XXI… But then, this is completely from memory and who the hell knows. I mean, I remember XVII being better than an A-, but that’s what I rated it at the time? I have some bottles of the stuff, so I’ll have to check it out I think. Anywho, would be interesting to see some new components next year. Maybe bring back §ucaba? Please?